The Lion and the Gnat, 1879
The gnat revels in his ability to get the better of the king of beasts with his buzzing and biting; the lion roars in pain. Boasting of its victory, the gnat flies into a spider’s web.
Painted before Moreau made his empirical study of animals in the zoo, this lion – in profile, with tail erect and paws outstretched – has many of the qualities of an heraldic beast. The colours in the landscape, particularly the yellows, golds and reds, reflect the emphasis on the lion’s tormented body and the violence in La Fontaine’s text: pricking, bleeding, roaring.
Most of the scene demonstrates the atmospheric possibilities of watercolour, but the gnat is painted in gouache, whose whiteness and opacity make it stand out against the trees.